US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Wetlands (2003) 23(1): pp. 51–64.


Before agricultural expansion in the 19th century, river valleys of North America supported expanses of wetland habitat. In restoring these landscapes, it is important to understand their historical condition and biological function. Synthesizing historical primary accounts (from explorers, travelers, settlers, and farmers) with contemporary knowledge of these wetland systems, we developed a profile of the wetlands and their use by nonbreeding waterbirds (e.g., waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds) within the Willamette Valley, Oregon, ca. 1840. We found evidence for three types of wetlands used by non-breeding waterbirds in fall, winter, and spring: emergent wetlands, riverine wetlands, and wetland prairie. The most extensive wetland type was wetland prairie, which functioned as fall/winter habitat for waterbirds, but only while native Kalapuyans managed the region with fire. Since the mid-1800s, four species, in particular, have decreased their use of the Willamette Valley: trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator), snow goose (Chen caerulescens), sandhill crane (Grus canadensis), and long-billed curlew (Numenius americanus). Information suggests that ca. 1840, waterbirds and their habitats were more abundant in the Willamette Valley than today. Restoration of the Willamette Valley landscape is warranted, and today’s agricultural wetlands—former wetland prairie—hold highest restoration potential.